In 2019 I had a great idea for a book.
I decided that I wanted to write this children's book that I felt didn’t exist. It was all based on my experiences with my oldest daughter, where people would always admire her hair and occasionally little kids would touch it. Also, I saw that there were not a lot of books for young children featuring babies of color. So I decided to pursue the journey to publish this idea.
I looked online at traditional publishing companies like Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House, and I found that they were either not accepting submissions or that you needed an agent to work with them.
What is an agent? How do I even get started with submitting a book for publication? Is this even something I can do? How long will it take?
Ok. So, I Google something like “self-publish a children’s book”, because I didn’t want to deal with gatekeepers.
Then, in this world of SELF-publishing, I also run into this world of PUBLISHERS that are accepting submissions. In their case, they were more accepting. “Just go ahead and send it in”, and apparently they would publish my book.
I thought this was self-publishing, but there are publishers in this world too?? Yikes. And why are they even accepting submissions when others aren’t accepeting them at all? Are they actually even publishers?
And there were consultants, and classes, and blogs (like this one!)….waaaay too much confusing info.
I’m gonna do my best to break alll of this down. Depending on where you are in your book journey you may have found yourself in a similar place of confusion. You may be there now.
There are like a million ways to publish a book and more are being invented every single day. I’ll talk about it in the way that has made the most sense for me:
self-publishing with a hybrid publisher
self-publishing on your own.
Things that fall in the middle
Hopefully it also brings a little clarity for someone that is just figuring it out.
What is traditional publishing?
Let’s start here.
Most of the books that you will discover are traditionally published. There are basically five large publishing houses that own many of the smaller ones:
Penguin Random House
Simon & Schuster
Hachette Book Group, and
(Someone just acquired someone I think…that happens a lot. So at the time you’re reading this, the list may be different.)
In this traditional publishing world, you will usually be represented by a literary agent and they will shop your manuscript around until someone picks it up. This publisher usually pay you an advance (from what I’ve heard, usually somewhere between $3,000 - $10,000 for new authors) and they do most of the work for you.
The pros of traditional publishing:
the publisher does all of the work to manage the project and get the book published
you get paid some money up front
it's a pretty small learning curve
it’s typically a more respected route, if that kind of thing matters to you
The cons of traditional publishing:
you have no real control over when your book will be published
you submit your book to publishing houses, but don't know if your book will ever be picked up
you usually have to work through an agent to get to the publisher
you may not be paid a royalty that is equal to the work you put in, or based on what you expected
Try it…but know you’re not in the driver’s seat
The thing about going the traditional route is that it is always there. If you can find an agent to represent you, why not go for it? You can always hustle to self-publish your book at the same time. Ideally, you have multiple book ideas so you can take a shot on the traditional publishing route with one of them and if it works, it works. If it doesn't it doesn't.
There are groups and organizations that can help prepare you for this journey of jumping into the traditional publishing world and also help introduce you to an agent. For children's book authors for example, the Society of Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators, SCBWI, is a great resource.
My general thinking is that I love this option, but as a DIYer, I could never put all of my faith in this path. I want to know that my book is a priority and that it will be published soon, but you don’t know this when your book is behind the veil of this process.
Self-publishing: hybrid publisher
Through a hybrid publisher
As I was looking for options to self publish my children's book, I came across a number of publishing companies that would help me publish my book. It was super confusing. I later learned the term "hybrid" or "vanity" publishing. In this model, an organization or person does everything that the traditional publisher does exept you are paying for the services. So, from what I’ve observed, you may pay anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000 and in return, you get a published book and different services from the publisher..
There is a lot of controversy around this type of publishing model. The biggest concern is that there are hybrid publishers that are just using aspiring authors to make money. Then when it's all said and done, the author has paid a lot of money and has mediocre illustrations, an okay book, and no sales.
However, I have also heard that all hybrid publishers are not bad. I have heard of some very positive experiences from indie authors that had used hybrid publishers and been happy with the results. Mascot Books, for example, is a pretty popular one where overall, the feedback has been pretty good.
Pros of a hybrid publisher:
You are working with a knowledgeable company that can guide you through the process
You are able to work with one company in contact for all of your author needs
In some cases these publishers have proprietary connection that you may not have access to otherwise.
Cons of a hybrid publisher:
It may be a complete ripoff
There usually isn't a ton of transparency around where all of your money is going
If you are going to publish multiple books you are kicking the can down the road since you will likely need to learn more about self-publishing at some point anyway
Self-publishing on your own
This was the route I decided to take (obviously!) so I have the most to say about it.
I decided to go the self-publishing route after I researched traditional publishers and found that it would take way longer than I wanted. I also didn’t feel that I would get the full value from a hybrid publisher since I wanted to learn the process.
When you self-publish on your own, you still print and distribute the books through a company, but the part that makes you the publisher is that you own the rights to the book. In my case, I went through Amazon KDP (more on people in this space later).
The big difference here with self-publishing on your own is that you do all the work. You learn about all of the nuances to this industry like finding illustrator, working with a graphic designer, working with an editor, buying an ISBN, marketing… Everything! It is a lot of work, however, it leaves the potential for the most upside and the most control over this creative endeavor that you likely have a lot of pride in.
Pros of self-publishing on your own
You have full control to publish when you want
Costs can be super low, even free
You own the intellectual property associated with the book so get all the royalties, and you can do anything you want with it (keep in mind, this may or may not include the illustrations, but we’ll get there in another post)
Cons of self-publishing on your own
A huge learning curve
It can be difficult to find the people you need to work with (illustrator, graphic designer, editor)
A higher risk of creating a not so polished book
Things that fall in the middle
Self-publishing consultants and classes
There are people that can help walk you through the process of self-publishing. You may pay them on hourly basis or over a defined period of time, and they will help you take your book from start to finish. This sounds similar to the hybrid publishing model, and the difference is that this consultant or teacher is showing you how the process works in providing guidance. You ultimately on the work and should be able to do all of this stuff on your own next time. But, be mindful that a consultant can often be a hybrid publisher posing as a consultant – this is okay, but just be sure you are paying too much. $50 - $100 an hour is reasonable…unless we’re talking about a celebrity or something.
Small traditional publishers
I mentioned the big four when I talked about traditional publishing. However there are lots of small publishing houses that serve a similar role to traditional publishers. The big thing to remember is this: a traditional publisher pays you upfront and ask for no money, while a hybrid publisher asked for money. With a smaller publisher, the royalties may be smaller and they may not have the same reach as one of the larger publishers. However this can still be an amazing opportunity for you to publish your book where you don't have to tackle a lot of the self-publishing hurdles.
Marketing deserves its own special section because it is really what makes the big difference in this confusing world of publishing. Although I have never gone the traditional publishing route, I have become familiar with what traditional publishers offer in terms of marketing through some of the author groups that I'm in and by listening to podcasts. The general consensus seems to be that large publishers will market your book. However that doesn't mean your book will sell well. There are many situations where a publisher decides to only invest a limited amount of resources in a book, so it won't sell that well. Or, I have heard that many traditional publishers are putting expectations on authors to handle some of the marketing themselves through publicizing or social media, hosting their own book signings, and augmenting that publishers marketing efforts.
From what I understand about hybrid publishers there is usually little marketing done. They may get you set up on Amazon, or they may get you in a few smaller shops. However, I am not aware of any hybrid publishers that have strong connections with big-box retailers or hybrid publishers that are able to drive a really high level of sales for an author. Usually the author still has to do a fair amount of work, which is one reason why so many authors choose to forgo the hybrid publishing routes, as they still have to do a lot of work to sell the book.
There’s no sugar-coating this: you have to do a ton of work.
The good news is you know you have to do work. There is no ambiguity around who else is going to do it – it's all on you. Marketing can be hard. It's the one part of the process that you don't really control, and you don't know how it's going to go until you finish the book. Most authors prefer something that allows them to continue writing books but they don't have to sell them, but that just isn’t the reality we live in. In my own experience, marketing has been the most time-consuming and exhausting effort that I ever have on my plate. It's never done, and unless you have some Harry Potter-ish breakout hit, you have to continue doing it for all of the books you write. Fortunately, there are lots of tools and resources out there to help with this.
Try what works for you
I have a bias. This is, after all the I Self Published That blog. So, I obviously love the option of self-publishing. I appreciate that it gives me the control and autonomy that I crave, while also allowing me to maximize my profitability and understand all parts of the self-publishing process. However, if the incentives were right, perhaps a traditional publisher would really catch my eye. And if a hybrid publisher had some type of major advantage where it's worthwhile for me to pay them upfront, I love to have them do the hard work. However neither of these is happened so far so for now, so it falls on me!
There are so many ways to self-publish in a way that is both fulfilling and profitable. But the hardest thing is piecing everything together to figure out how to do it right. I hope to continue to provide resources and the back story of my own personal experience so that you can self publish your own books and feel good about it.
See you in another post.